Canning? No thanks. Small-batch freezer jams deliver honest fruit flavor with on-demand ease.

By Gary Thompson; Photographer: Andy Lyons
Small-batch freezer jam

Avid cooks and veterans of the Minneapolis food scene, writer Beth Dooley and photographer Mette Nielsen hold deep respect for culinary tradition-except the art of canning. In Savory Sweet: Simple Preserves from a Northern Kitchen, Beth writes, "We are not putting food up to rely on through the winter or to stock the shelves for survival." When we make jams or syrups today, it's usually just for fun. So why hew to old ways? In place of the high-volume, time-intensive, hours-long affair of hot water-bath canning, Beth and Mette use a streamlined freezer technique. Their modestly scaled recipes mean less risk in trying novel flavors, plus they cut cost, time and cleanup. In fact, you can make most of the book's utterly modern preserves-like rosy plum jam with port wine, pickled red onions or carrot-lemon marmalade with cardamom-in an hour after a trip to the farmers market. Immediate gratification: Now that is sweet.

Try this juicy, faintly lemony strawberry jam over a schmear of ricotta cheese on toast.

Baked Strawberry Preserves

Shopping List
Strawberries
Fresh ginger
Sugar
Lemon verbena or Lemon
Cider vinegar


1. Prep Wash four half-pint canning jars, lids and bands in hot soapy water, rinse well, and place upside down on a clean kitchen towel to drain. Preheat oven to 350°. Halve or slice 2 pounds strawberries so that pieces are roughly uniform. Quarter a 2½-inch piece of fresh ginger lengthwise, leaving peel intact. Tip: Using small, super-ripe berries lets you get away with less sweetener. "We've cut the added sugar by more than half," Beth says, "so the true flavors shine through."

2. Bake Place berries and ginger in a shallow roasting pan with 1⁄2 cup sugar, 2 sprigs lemon verbena and 2 tablespoons cider vinegar. Stir to coat. Bake uncovered on the middle rack, gently stirring occasionally, until berries release their liquid and mixture begins to thicken, about 40 minutes. Remove from oven; discard ginger and lemon verbena. Let the mixture cool and thicken for about an hour. Break it up with a potato masher, if desired. Beth and Mette like a chunky texture (ideal for spooning over angel food cake), but breaking up the fruit makes a thicker jam. Tip: Buy a lemon verbena plant at a specialty nursery-or swap in a wide strip of lemon zest (use a vegetable peeler).

3. Store Spoon preserves into jars, leaving a half-inch of room at the top for expansion during freezing. Wipe the rims with a clean wet cloth or paper towel. Add the lids and bands, finger tightening the bands. Label jars. Cool completely and tighten bands fully before storing jars in the refrigerator or freezer. Tip: Stash preserves up to 3 weeks in the fridge or 1 year in the freezer. (Be sure to use freezer-safe containers-not all glass ones are.)

Find a printable version of this recipe here.

Port and Plum Jam

Shopping List
Plums
Ruby port
Sugar

1. Prep Put a small plate in the freezer for the set test. Wash one half-pint canning jar, lid and band in hot soapy water, rinse well, and place upside down on a clean kitchen towel to drain. Pit and coarsely chop 2⁄3 pound ripe plums. Place fruit in a 10-inch saute pan with 1⁄2 cup each ruby port wine and sugar. Cover the pan and macerate fruit at room temperature for 30 to 60 minutes. (Maceration just means letting the sugary fruit mixture rest, Beth explains. It draws out the juices, which shortens the cooking time and yields a fresher-tasting jam.) Tip: Port is a strong, sweet red wine fortified with brandy. At the liquor store, ask for a ruby port with nice body.

2. Cook Uncover the pan and bring mixture to a gentle boil over medium heat. Lower heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until plums are very soft, about 20 minutes. If you start with underripe fruit, it may take more than 20 minutes to get good and jammy. Remove pan from heat and do a set test. If the jam isn't thick enough, return pan to heat (and plate to freezer) for a few minutes, then repeat the test. Tip: For the set test, put a spoonful of jam on the frozen plate and return to the freezer for 2 minutes. Drag a finger through the center. If the mark doesn't fill back in, the jam is done. If it does, cook a few more minutes and test again.

3. Store Spoon jam into jar, leaving a half-inch of room at the top for expansion during freezing. Wipe the rim with a clean wet cloth or paper towel. Add the lid and band, finger tightening the band. (Don't overtighten at this stage. For jars to seal right, you need to let any trapped air bubbles escape.) Label jar. Cool completely and tighten band fully before storing in the refrigerator (up to 3 weeks) or freezer (up to 1 year).

Find a printable version of this recipe here.

Consistency's Sake

Beth and Mette skip pectin (a natural gelling agent), so their preserves are a bit runnier. But it means the flavor is more vibrant and true-and they double as sundae sauces. Can your jam do that?

Buy the book

Creative serving suggestions accompany each of the 118 recipes in this lushly photographed cookbook (University of Minnesota Press, $25).

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